Could Santa Claus be Irish? Seamus O'Murchu delves into a local Irish
legend that suggests an Emerald Green Santa may not be all Christmas
As the children are posting off their long list of Christmas wishes to Lapland for Santa Claus to read, here's a Christmas Story to suggest that maybe they should be sent to the Emerald Isle instead...
The Santa Claus we know and love today is the portly old gentleman with the flowing beard, red outfit and team of reindeer, who on 25th December climbs down chimneys with a sack load of gifts. The man behind this figure is Saint Nicholas ( Santa Claus being a Germanic corruption of St Nicholas) and according to Irish legend he is buried in the remains of a medieval church in County Kilkenny.
Saint Nicholas was the 4th century Bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey. According to legend, Nicholas was born into an affluent family who died leaving him with great wealth. A devout Christian and something of a philanthropist, Nicholas believed that he should use his inheritance to help others less fortunate.
One popular tale regarding Saint Nicholas, tells of a man with three daughters and no money for a dowry for either them. On hearing the mans plight, Nicholas came to his house while the family slept and hid three purses of gold in the daughters' stockings, which had been hanging by the fire to dry. Establishing Saint Nicholas as a giver of gifts along with the tradition of hanging stockings out for Santa.
Saint Nicholas is also seen as a protector of children, after one legend about an evil butcher who lured three children to his house where he killed them and planned to sell them as meat. Having foreseen this terrible deed, Nicholas came to the butcher and prayed that the children's lives be restored.
As well as being patron saint of children, Nicholas is patron saint of sailors and fishermen and it was after saving a fisherman on his voyage to the then Greek city of Myra, that St Nicholas was made Bishop of Myra.
As Bishop, Nicholas' benevolence continued and other stories tell of him defending those that were innocently accused, of saving his people from famine, and many acts of generosity and compassion - good will to mankind if you will.
Unlike most early saints, Nicholas wasn't brutally murdered for his faith and he lived to a ripe old age. St Nicholas died on December 6th AD 343, and this date is the saint's feast day, a time when people would give gifts to children, which how the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas came about and how St Nicholas or Santa Claus is synonymous with Christmas time.
But how did St Nicholas get to Ireland? The legends of St Nicholas state that his relics were taken from Myra after the invasion of the Turks to Bari in Italy, where they were placed in a shrine in Bari's Basilica di San Nicola and are said to produce a miraculous ‘manna' a liquid with healing powers. The tomb of St Nicholas in Bari was an important pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages and is still a popular tourist attraction.
But a local Irish legend would suggest they are all looking in the wrong place. According to this tale, a group of Irish-Norman knights from Jerpoint Abbey in Kilkenny travelled to the Holy Land to fight in the Crusades and it was they, who ‘liberated' St Nicholas' relics from Myra. They brought the bones of St Nicholas to Ireland where they were laid to rest in the Church of St Nicholas, close to Jerpoint Abbey in Kilkenny.
The Church of St Nicholas now lies in ruins, all that remains of the medieval village of Newtown Jerpoint, and is situated on privately held farm land today. Inside the church ruins is a grave slab dating from the 13th Century that depicts a Bishop and two Crusader Knights. This according to the legend is the Bishop of Myra; St Nicholas and the two crusaders are the knights who brought his relics to this very spot, where St Nicholas is buried in Ireland.
So from myself and all at Discovering Ireland Vacation, we wish you Nollaig faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit agus Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit - A prosperous and pleasant Christmas and a prosperous New Year!